Tester denounces alternatives that would ban snowmobiles, snowcoaches in Yellowstone

Billings Gazette

by Brett French

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., took a swipe Friday at two of the alternatives that Yellowstone National Park officials are considering as part of their winter-use planning.

“Two of these proposals aren’t going to fly in my book because, like most Montanans, I believe snowmobiles and snowcoaches have an important place in Yellowstone,” Tester said in a statement.

On Thursday Yellowstone unveiled its six alternatives for winter use that are under consideration. Of the two Tester referred to, one would ban all snowmobile and snowcoach use and the other would phase out snowmobile use over five years beginning in the 2014-15 season.

“Montana’s economy relies heavily on visitors who come from all over the world to experience our first national park,” Tester said. “Now it’s a matter of finding the right balance that works for both Montana and Yellowstone, and I look forward to hearing what Montanans have to say.”

The public can take part in two online presentations, webinars or a conference call the week of Aug. 2 when park officials will explain the range of draft alternatives and answer questions about them.

The draft environmental impact statement will be released for comment in February or March next year.

Here’s a breakdown of the park’s six alternatives:

  • Alternative 1: No snowmobile or snowcoach use. The current interim rule for winter use would expire after the 2010-11 winter season. After that, no public use of over-snow vehicles would be permitted in Yellowstone.
  • Alternative 2: Continue snowmobile/snowcoach use at 2008 plan limits — up to 318 snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches a day. All current over-snow vehicle requirements would continue, including entry only with guides, restrictions on hours of operation, and only snowmobiles that meet “Best Available Technology” requirements. BAT also would be developed and implemented for snowcoaches by the 2014-15 season.
  • Alternative 3: Return snowmobile/snowcoach use to 2004 plan limits — up to 720 snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches a day. All current OSV requirements would continue, the same as under Alternative 2.
  • Alternative 4: The roads from West Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful would be plowed for access to commercial buses and vans. The South Entrance road from Grand Teton National Park would be groomed for use by up to 30 snowcoaches and 100 snowmobiles a day, all required to be Best Available Technology. The East Entrance road over Sylvan Pass from Cody, Wyo., would be closed to over-snow vehicles but nonmotorized access would be allowed.
  • Alternative 5: Transition to Best Available Technology snowcoaches only. Snowmobiles would gradually be phased out, beginning in the 2014-15 season, when all snowcoaches would be required to meet BAT standards. Snowcoaches would replace snowmobiles within a five-year period (depending on snowcoach user demand). This alternative initially provides for both snowmobile and snowcoach access under present levels — 318 snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches a day. After the 2014-15 season, snowcoach numbers would be allowed to increase to 120 a day, with a corresponding decrease in the number of snowmobiles.
  • Alternative 6: Over-snow vehicle and visitor use would be managed for a greater variety of winter experiences by setting times and places for higher and lower levels of use, including additional opportunities for undisturbed skiing and snowshoeing. OSV entries into Yellowstone would be limited to a maximum of 2,000 snowmobiles and 4,600 snowcoaches, and a daily limit of up to 540 snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches. Up to 25 percent of snowmobile entries would be available for unguided use.